The group was in Malaysia and Singapore as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (ASEAN YBLI), which looks to facilitate trade and build connections between the next generation of business leaders in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.
The five Kiwi entrepreneurs produce premium, healthy products - from organic tea and popcorn to tonics using traditional Maori herbs.
The trip included a visit to a sustainable and organic fish farm in Penang, making and learning about bubble tea with one of Southeast Asia’s leading entrepreneurs, and the chance to interact with distributors and buyers at the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise event Food Connections in Singapore.
Jacqui Wales, founder and CEO of organic tea producers Libertine Blends, says she was excited by the sophistication of the products found in the supermarkets and boutiques stores of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
“The organic artesian food and beverage scene is building in Southeast Asia. Grocery aisles and specialist stores are filled with international brands showcasing the finest and most beautifully presented products from around the globe."
By visiting potential outlets and seeing the kinds of products on sale, the group was able to gauge where their products might fit within the market.
Tama Toki, founder and CEO of Maori herbal remedies company Aotea, says the trip allowed him to get invaluable insights and feedback on his products.
"This trip was so eye opening. Being on the ground and seeing the market yourself really is invaluable.
"I learned about the appetite that exists for a product like ours, not from beverage reports but more from talking to people on the ground that had a huge affinity with the ingredients we use and the concept."
Toki says he was particularly interested to learn about e-commerce and how it could help New Zealand businesses break into a market that might otherwise be difficult to penetrate.
“What I find interesting with e-commerce is how you can circumvent regulation/bureaucracy in these overseas markets. The gatekeepers aren't the traditional retailers (supermarkets etc) and it makes doing transactions so much easier for small businesses like ours.”
All of those who took part in the trip also highlighted the benefit of travelling with fellow entrepreneurs, as well as meeting their counterparts in Singapore and Malaysia.
"The highlight most definitely would have been meeting and spending some time with the other New Zealand business owners that were on the trip - learning from them and understanding the scope of their businesses," Toki says. "Further to this was mixing with the Malaysian and Singaporean business owners in similar categories to us."
ASEAN YBLI project manager Adam McConnochie says the trip was about building and strengthening connections in the region, but there was also value for the participants in just being in Singapore and Malaysia, learning about the countries and becoming more familiar and more comfortable there.
"We were well looked after by previous YBLIs who, as well as providing business insights, gave us invaluable cultural insights. For example, in Penang we wandered around the old Chinese jetty while Wei Sheng recounted stories of the original Chinese merchants – it was a unique experience."
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's Food Connection event in Singapore gave the entrepreneurs a chance to test the waters with their products
McConnochie says the visit was also a great example of ‘NZ Inc’ off-shore. “We were lucky enough to be in Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Minister Flavell and his delegation of Maori food and beverage companies, and we were well supported by the High Commission and the Trade Commission.
"Doing a waiata with a bunch of Kiwis off-shore makes you really appreciate where you come from.”
Since 2012, the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has brought more than 70 entrepreneurs and business leaders from Southeast Asia to New Zealand, building business connections and facilitating trade links. The initiative also sends New Zealand entrepreneurs to participate in sector-specific programmes in Southeast Asia. This was the fifth such visit.